You see the wave swelling the distance. You turn your board to face the shore. You lay down on your board. You start paddling. You look back to make sure the wave is worth paddling for. You look back to make sure the waves isn’t going to crash on you. You feel the power of the wave lifting you. Should I stand up now? Am I too late, is it too soon? You try. You get it and you try to stand. You don’t and you sit back on the board. Either way, you look back and see the other waves forming. Now, you’re too far in to catch the coming waves and you know that they are all going to crash on you. You swim back toward them, duck diving or turtle flipping, each time, to minimize the impact. You swim again toward the next waves, and repeat the motions. Eventually, you’re back where you started. Someone asks: ” did you catch the wave?”. You sit still for a moment, catching your breath, thinking and eventually answer: “Wow, I can’t even remember now!”
Surfing is that intense, it’s that “in the moment”. There is so much to think about all that once, that for the rookie that I am, it felt completely overwhelming. Paddle, paddle, paddle, watch for people around you, put your hands flat on the board, push up, kick your feet forward, but not too far forward or the nose of your board will dip in and you’ll go flying, not too far back either or you’ll fall backwards, lower your stance, speard your arms, look in the direction of where you want to go (hmmm…. never felt like I had a choice!), never let go of your board. There is so much going on. You go from sitting calmly on your board, your legs floating in the warm Mexican water, to 100% intensity.
I met my friend Sarah in Puerto Vallarta. We had talked a month back about going somewhere together. Climbing, as always, was the first option. Yet, when she mentionned surfing, I was in. I knew nothing about it, I had never done it and I hadn’t taken a non climbing trip in as long as I can remember. After so many AMGA courses and exams back to back and guiding, I was excited to have something else to look forward to. I was also excited to postpone the start of winter and the interaction with the cold. I had always wanted to go to Mexico and it happened to be the cheapest destination. Adam was going hunting with his Dad and brother in New Hampshire. The timing couldn’t have been any better.
Sarah organized the house rental: a beautiful white Mexican house with two huge bedrooms, an open kitchen with the perfect smoothie blender, and a bean shaped swimming pool
to sunbath at. We quickly settled into the following routine: an A.M. surfing session/breakfast/sunbath my the pool/ a P.M. surfing session/ Margaritas with Chips and Salsa/watching sex and the city/Mexican dinner/sleep. Repeat!
We rented board from Lily and Carlos at Pazport Surfing School (do go there if you are going to Sayulita. The best deal in town). The first day, Sarah helped me get on the board by pushing it to give me momentum. I think I was blessed with some beginner’s luck as I was able to stand up pretty much right away at the beginner waves area. But, that didn’t last long.
As soon as I headed to the regular break, reality hit hard. Without someone pushing your board, you have to paddle a lot harder and it’s really hard to find the perfect timing to get the wave right. I did get a few, but spent a whole day getting owned by the waves. I just couldn’t get it right. With my period starting simultaneously, I could have cried. How could I suck so bad? Sarah, in the meantime, was totally crushing it, standing smoothly with her bright turquoise rashguard on her beloved red board, hair in the wind…smooth sailing! That is the great thing about surfing: you can go with people of different levels and still have the time of your life because you’re both in it for yourself, yet you can still share in the experience.
Luckly for me, the next day was a full on Tropical day with gigantic waves
and we opted for just watching the pros do what they do. I felt sick to my stomach at the thought of being in those waves: as the crash you can feel the power, the force they carry and getting crushed by them must be horrifying.
We woke up early the next morning to get to surf one last time. We were flying out that afternoon and had to catch the 2$ bus back to Puerto Vallarta. It was still dark out as we hiked down the stairs into the still sleepy town and onto the beach. Lily gave me a longer board – 9.6 – which made it a million times easier to catch the waves. The waves came, I paddled hard. And I got it. I got three in row. I would stand up, and wobble heavily until I would totally loose balance and fall. Yet, although I lacked any style, I felt the desire for more. I knew then that I would have to come back.
There aren’t many activities out there that force you into being fully present. Surfing is definitely one of those sports. As Sarah says, it’s not like climbing where you can try a move over and over again, lower, start again. With surfing, it’s either you catch the wave or you don’t. And you will never get to try that wave again. It’s gone, for ever. So you really need to get your act together at exactly the right time. It’s an amazing thing to be a beginner at a new sport. A new sport that you fall for that is. It felt so good to have no expectations of myself, just be there, learn, do my best and actually enjoy the process.
Now back in SLC, I can still picture the waves swelling, I want to paddle, I want to feel the waves swell below me, I want to push up and stand on the board, and obviously, from the comfort of my chair, I can see myself riding the board all the way into shore… Thank god for the power of visualization! Instead of surfing for real now, I can surf the web in search of the next place to go and get schooled again by the waves. My dream, is to someday, surf a wave while touching the face of the wave with my hand… dreams, dreams, dreams…